Cape Town – Suddenly play more “positive” rugby? Suddenly slash the quota of Faf de Klerk’s ubiquitous box kicks? Suddenly ditch that palpably still ailing, yet so staple fullback presence Willie le Roux?
Dream on, I strongly fancy.
Rassie Erasmus has played a roulette of sorts throughout RWC 2019, probably knowing deep down that his intensely suffocation-based rather than thrill-seeking strategy could wash up quite nastily on the rocks at any time.
And yet, all the while, the Springbok head coach has coolly, astutely and with a pinch of defiance navigated his charges through a run of five unbeaten matches since the first-up pool defeat to New Zealand … and into the Boks’ first showpiece appearance in a dozen years, against old northern adversaries England in Yokohama next Saturday (11:00 SA time).
That fact alone is rightful cause for near-euphoric celebration, whatever happens six days ahead, when you pause to consider the unholy pickle the national team was in when he took to the bridge last year.
The second semi-final – the Bok “pneumatic drill” eking out a 19-16 triumph over Wales on Sunday -- having been immeasurably less easy on the eye than Saturday’s England v New Zealand sizzler will fade into irrelevant detail from here,
and only more so if the underdogs (a sticker the Boks simply love wearing, remember) go on to down Eddie Jones’s presently trumpeted troops for a third South African lifting of the Webb Ellis Cup.
The current Springboks may not always be the most consummate of winners, but they are even less likely to be wide-margin losers: they get under skins, and they dish out bruises like a West Indian pace battery of the late 1970s.
Nor will they be remotely riled (hmm, can you sense a slight stiffening of resolve already?) by the Twitter jibe, for example of a former England captain Lewis Moodie (@LewisMoodie7) at an advanced stage of the SA-Wales semi: “Nothing I am seeing would worry England … very predictable.”
That very “predictability” -- difficult to dispute -- may not be to the liking of rugger romantics, but it keeps ensuring ticks in the win column for the Boks in Japan and just one more is required for South African sport, collectively in the doldrums, to rise spectacularly from its relative ashes.
Against that backdrop, it will come as a surprise if Erasmus, deeply mindful though he will be of a faulty part here and there, shifts his selection furniture noticeably for the final.
I suggest he may have only three relevant areas to mull over in the coming days, assuming that there are no injury-related setbacks in the lead-up week.
One will be whether there is any chance of pocket dynamo Cheslin Kolbe, whose ankle problem kept him out of the Wales clash, being available for the final; he was replaced at his now customary right wing by S’bu Nkosi in the semi-final and the Sharks man, though far from a weak link overall, looked a touch out of sync with the positional demands on defence at times.
Perhaps not unconnected, when it comes to Kolbe, is the possibility that if he is deemed suitably fit, he enters the radar as a fullback option in place of Le Roux, who continues to make the most infuriating of basic errors at this tournament.
It was no different on Sunday, but at the same time Erasmus and his co-masterminds must be thinking the seasoned pro is well overdue for a more comprehensively pleasing performance – might it come at the most timely of junctures against England, if they gamble with him one further time?
Le Roux was English-based at club level with Wasps for three years, remember, so must have some good intelligence on some of their players, and boasts five of his 60 Test caps against that country alone.
He is also the sort of player who, even when hardly firing on all cylinders in an overall sense, can suddenly spark a moment of magic from nothing; useful in the uniquely pressure-cooker environment of a World Cup final.
The third of the conundrums, arguably, for Erasmus will be whether to stick with the 6-2 bench split in heavy favour of forwards, a formula he has employed for three frontline matches on the trot (Italy, Japan, Wales).
Gut feel, again? The status quo: the mass infusions of pack men off the splinters went some way to closing out the semi-final successfully, and he may figure the same is possible if the Boks are still very much at the races late on in the final …
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
Well at the risk of sounding like an arrogant @EnglandRugby fan. Nothing I am seeing would worry England. Very predictable— Lewis Moody (@LewisMoody7) October 27, 2019